Chapter 58

#22. The Regency

“Where’s Yoon-Hee?” Kim Jin-Woo called for the female dungeon baby the moment he saw the familiar scene of his master room.

<Let me call her over.> Dominique delightfully welcomed her master’s long-awaited return. She left the master room after replying as such, and soon returned with Yoon-Hee by her side.

In contrast to what she had worn while wandering around the underground world, Yoon-Hee was now dressed rather lightly. Furthermore, there was a pierrot mask-shaped dungeon emblem vividly emblazoned on her chest.

“Seems like she’s still the same even after becoming a labyrinth master.” Kim Jin-Woo sighed.

He had hoped for some sort of awakening for the female dungeon baby that would enable her to speak and act differently, but it seemed she would require more time to recover. He had always planned to wait, but it was becoming worrisome, as she now had to fulfill her responsibility as a labyrinth master.

“What a dilemma.” He called Dominique while staring at Yoon-Hee, who was gazing blankly with a clueless expression. “Dominique, report the situation in the labyrinth.” He set Yoon-Hee’s matter aside and first inspected the naga’s labyrinth.

<The ten naga horsemen and under-elf that left with you have all returned without any issues. Scouts have been regularly dispatched to spy on the labyrinth of the dead, but no suspicious movements have been noted.>

True enough, nobody dared to harass the rapidly growing naga’s labyrinth.

“Still, don’t let down your guard and continue to keep an eye on the enemy. The King of the Dead is not the kind to stay still.”

Kim Jin-Woo had only had a brief glance of Valicius, the King of the Dead, but that was sufficient to conclude that he was an exceptionally sly fellow infatuated with manufacturing chimeras.

He was different from Basilisk King Anaxtus, who had been overly cautious but strong, or Uther, King of Greed, who preferred to play it safe. If Valicius was indeed up to something, he would resort to various tricks instead of declaring war upfront.

<Alright. I’ll recruit more scouts to keep a lookout.>

“Good. You’re always working hard, Dominique.” Kim Jin-Woo expressed his gratitude to Dominique for the first time, as she had been managing the labyrinth alone while he was gone.

Dominique’s eyes opened wide upon hearing his caring words, welling up with tears. She seemed deeply moved even by his casual statement.

“Hmm…”

Angela was clearly jealous as she stood next to him, but Kim Jin-Woo decided to ignore her. Unlike the vampire, who was useful but had been forcibly entrusted to him, Dominique was a special subordinate who had accompanied him ever since the birth of the labyrinth.

“Just tell me anything you wish for. I’ll grant your wishes as long as they’re within my capability,” Kim Jin-Woo offered.

Dominque immediately replied as though she already had an answer in mind. <I also want to visit where you stay on the surface.> She seemed rather envious of Angela, who had accompanied him to the surface.

“The surface? Hmm, that’s a little hard…”

It wasn’t an issue for Angela, since her appearance resembled that of a human. On the other hand, Dominique looked distinctly different in every aspect, from her skin color to her lower body. Problems would thus occur if she were to tag along to the surface.

<It’s fine. I couldn’t be happier to be at your service, even if you don’t do anything in particular for me,> Dominique replied faithfully without throwing a tantrum the way Angela did.

Kim Jin-Woo pondered for a moment. “Let’s talk about this again when we have the opportunity.”

Dominique’s face lit up when Kim Jin-Woo suggested he might reconsider. Even if they did end up not going to the surface, she would remain overjoyed for some time, knowing that her master had taken her into consideration.

“That aside, it’s about time…”

A few days had passed since Yoon-Hee had claimed the labyrinth of festivals, so the synchronization should have been completed by now. Wasn’t that why Kim Jin-Woo had returned straight to the labyrinth, even when there were matters to settle on the surface?

[Synchronization with the Party Hall and Yoon-Hee, the second knight, have been completed. She has become the legitimate ruler of the Party Hall.]

[The portal linking the two labyrinths, which previously couldn’t be activated due to incomplete synchronization, can now be opened.]

Kim Jin-Woo had arrived at the right moment, just as Yoon-Hee and the labyrinth of festivals had completed their synchronization.

“Yoon-Hee,” he called.

The female dungeon baby, who would have learned about this in advance through her notifications, was staring blankly into space when Kim Jin-Woo’s voice startled her and caused her to turn around.

“Try opening the portal,” Kim Jin-Woo instructed.

Yoon-Hee continued to stare at him vacantly without speaking a word. In the end, Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t wait any longer and proceeded to open the portal linking the two labyrinths together.

***

The first person to step into the activated Party Hall after complete synchronization wasn’t Yoon-Hee, but instead, her master Kim Jin-Woo.

“Nothing too special here.”

There was nothing extraordinary about her labyrinth, as its level was still low. There was only an altar, a small labyrinth’s core, and an antique wooden chair in place of a throne in the middle of the vacant master room.

“Sit here,” Kim Jin-Woo instructed as Yoon-Hee followed him through the portal. He pulled her over and sat her down on the chair, as she continued to stare blankly at the air.

“Do you want to start with an upgrade?” he asked, but soon shook his head and threw a pre-prepared middle-grade down gem onto the altar. Both his and Yoon-Hee’s labyrinth seemed to be equally avaricious, judging from how the down gem was consumed in an instant.

He continued, “Follow me. Upgrade.” Yoon-Hee continued to stare at Kim Jin-Woo without a word, which started to give him a headache.

“So tough. Tough indeed,” he muttered.

At this rate, his plan to expand her labyrinth in order to reinforce his military strength would come to naught.

However, Dominique, his almighty savior, came over to resolve his dilemma. <Master, some of the greedy nobles of the deep floor don’t trust their own subordinates. They choose to act as regents and practically govern their subordinates’ labyrinths.>

“Regent?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

<I’m not sure about the details, since I’m not a labyrinth master, but I heard that you can become a proxy ruler of another labyrinth. Anatolius also manages the labyrinths of his untrustworthy subordinates in this manner.>

This idea had never crossed Kim Jin-Woo’s mind before. He stared at Yoon-Hee for a moment before opening his mouth. “Do you agree to this?”

Yoon-Hee nodded habitually without even contemplating his proposal. At that moment, a message appeared. 

[Yoon-Hee, the legitimate ruler of the Land of Festivals, also known as the Party Hall, lacks the capacity to govern the labyrinth on her own. Do you wish to exercise authority over the Party Hall as her master?]

“I do.”

[Yoon-Hee, the ruler of the Party Hall, has agreed to the regency.]

[Kim Jin-Woo has become the proxy ruler of the Party Hall.]

[Summonable personnel are able to shuttle between the two labyrinths more liberally.]

[The two labyrinths shall share their summonable personnel with each other. However, their strengths will still decrease when they leave their respective floors. Please exercise due caution.]

[With the naga’s labyrinth, a feudal territory, and another land under control, you have become a legitimate underground noble.]

[‘Lowest-Class Noble’s Authority’ has been upgraded to ‘Low-Class Noble’s Authority’. More charisma will be infused in your words from now on.]

[Your charisma has increased significantly.]

The corner of Kim Jin-Woo’s mouth curled up to produce a smile as he read the densely arranged messages which almost obscured his view. With this, Yoon-Hee’s Party Hall effectively belonged to him now.

***

After upgrading the Party Hall, Kim Jin-Woo assigned a few nagas just as a safety measure. Their powers weakened the further they strayed from the naga’s labyrinth, but that was his only option since the Party Hall barely had any defense infrastructure.

“Aren’t you going to bring me along?” Angela asked him.

Angela had proven her worth in the last expedition, but Kim Jin-Woo had a hunch that she would cause trouble. Therefore, he left her in the labyrinth and headed up to the surface.

“Where did you go?” Mr. Baek nagged the moment Kim Jin-Woo stepped into his office to obtain some information. “Hmph, the labyrinth’s gone because you’ve been taking your own sweet time. The Association of all things had to obtain the labyrinth, stopping us from doing anything. Damn it.”

Kim Jin-Woo noticed something strange in Mr. Baek’s words. He asked, “The Association got hold of the labyrinth?”

“Exactly! Those bastards barricaded the entrance and refused to budge, so the other explorers couldn’t even enter the labyrinth.”

“Weren’t they just trying to prevent chaos?”

“Tsk tsk, you’re so gullible, even though you don’t seem so. How can you still be this innocent after entering the underground world so many times? That’s the Association’s excuse, and only fools would believe it.” Mr. Baek then lowered his voice and continued chattering as if he were sharing something extremely confidential. “Everyone is hushing up, but it seems the Association already took control of the labyrinth. That’s why the explorers who went hunting for the abandoned labyrinth are returning to the surface.”

The labyrinth that had been closed off by the Association was merely a shell, since Kim Jin-Woo had extracted its core. He had returned to the surface only to find such an absurd rumor in circulation.

“What a pity. They won’t be too happy.”

However, the rumors weren’t necessarily to Kim Jin-Woo’s disadvantage, as he could avoid the spotlight if the Association garnered most of the public attention. Furthermore, it had even shouldered all the hatred from the explorers, so the rumors were actually beneficial to him.

“Don’t mention it. The explorers have all turned their back on the Association. Of course, many of them still obey the Association, but a majority of the high-level dungeon babies have left. That’s still profitable for the Association though, because the loss can be easily offset by the labyrinth. Urgh, just thinking of it makes me jealous.”

What Mr. Baek had mentioned could only be true if the Association had claimed the labyrinth in its entirety. Upon a closer look, one would realize that the Association was obsessing over nothing but an empty shell.

Kim Jin-Woo already looked forward to the expressions the Association executives would make upon discovering how worthless the labyrinth was. When Mr. Baek saw the rare, joyful look on Kim Jin-Woo’s face, he began to nag again.

***

Lee Jun-Young was one of those explorers who had had to turn back without even stepping into the labyrinth because the Association had barricaded the entrance.

“It’s a blessing in disguise, actually. Nothing has changed for our underground expeditions just because we’ve missed one labyrinth. It’s comforting to know that many explorers have finally come to their senses and turned their backs on the Association.”

It had been a while since Kim Jin-Woo and Lee Jun-Young had met, but the latter suddenly began to express her opinion regarding the matter.

“The Association has been desperately trying to gain profit by currying favor with the government, but now it’s being pressured by the latter. How amazing!” Lee Jun-Young seemed to mean it, evidently, judging by the contagious, bright smile that even lifted Kim Jin-Woo’s mood.

He agreed with her, saying, “Well, the labyrinth’s too huge to belong to an individual anyway.”

“You’re right. In that sense, maybe the Association isn’t entirely in the wrong. Of course, I still don’t agree with the actions of Song Jong-Chul and his gang.”

Through their previous encounter, Kim Jin-Woo had already been able to infer that Lee Jun-Young didn’t have an amicable relationship with Song Jong-Chul.

“That aside, are you still traveling alone, Mr. Jin-Woo?”

“Ah, yes. I find it more convenient.” Kim Jin-Woo’s reply seemed to draw a line.

Lee Jun-Young licked her lips in response. “Ah, that’s a pity. There’s a big task upcoming, and I would be able to rest easy with you in the team.”

“A big task?”

Kim Jin-Woo was aware that Lee Jun-Young’s team contained decently skillful members and had a proven track record. If she called the task ‘big’, it would be an incredibly difficult one that most explorers wouldn’t even dare to take on.

Kim Jin-Woo flatly rejected her. The next time he entered the underground world, he would have to stir up the stagnant waters. For starters, he had to subjugate Valicius in advance, as the latter wasn’t fond of the naga’s labyrinth’s growth despite not revealing his feelings. But also, he also had to expand his influence in earnest. Therefore, he didn’t wish to be embroiled in another irrelevant matter.

“Guess I won’t be seeing you for a while again.” Lee Jun-Young frankly expressed her sorrow without a facade.

“Right. Both of us are busy, after all.”

“Well, let’s hope to meet again. We can’t just roam around the underground world for the rest of our lives. Perhaps we’ll only have time after retiring.” Lee Jun-Young seemed to have more to say, but she just greeted him farewell and left.

“A big task, huh…” Kim Jin-Woo was very curious about this ‘big task’, but he refused to delve deeper into this affair, as he might become unknowingly entangled in the mess. It had already happened to him multiple times in the underground world.

Brrrrr. Brrrr.

Kim Jin-Woo was sitting where Lee Jun-Young had been a while ago, thinking about his schedule ahead, when the phone suddenly rang.

He grimaced when he saw an unfamiliar number on his screen.

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